Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ally Maintenance and Upkeep

There is a really provocative graphic going around about allies lately.  (I am not sure of a source to link, but it was a solid series of tweets about being a QUILTBAG ally. If you have the source, please let me know so I can credit and link, thanks!) It got me thinking about allies and ally-ship. Let me share my brain drippings with you!

I think that allies are part of the community like suburbs are part of the city. They are in the same vague area (say, disability rights) but their experiences are markedly different (by, you know, not actually being disabled) and usually less intense. They both take shit for thinking that disabled folks are full and complete people rather than drains on the system that should have been set on ice flows. One is having their own humanity questioned; while the other is just being told they are wrong, even if it is about something they deeply believe.

I do think that allies of any community should have a safe space... to themselves. They should not intrude on a core community, and most certainly not feel entitled to the core safe spaces, or the time and energy of members of the core community. They should not place themselves above or superior to their core group. But they do have needs that they can support each other to handle. Those needs are not the same as the core folks anyway. Someone being called a racial slur is experiencing something much different than I experience when called a race traitor. We may both need a hand and support, but of vastly different types. Which means that intruding on an oppressed group's safe space is not only a jerk-ass move, but would not give an actual ally what they may need, anyhow.

For anyone reading this with a raised eyebrow or proto-side-eye, I understand. Who the fuck am I, anyway?This is only based on my personal observations as a racial justice ally, an immigration/DREAM ally, an ally to the other folks in LGbt, for starters. Also, I see it a member of the QUILTBAG community, the disability community, a woman, a person of low fixed income et al... I have intersections, and I bet you do too! 

Sometimes it needs to be said that being oppressed and/or being an ally of an oppressed group does not make one exempt from being an asshole. Let me emphasize that real quick: statuses of privilege or lack of it are not indications of being a good person or a bad person. Which is why I mention sincerity. Have it, get it, or get the fuck out of the way. I have been called out when I was wrong and accepted it with what grace I could muster. I have also had someone use oppressed status to power insults and social maneuvers, which I took... with less grace. If you are a minority dealing with an asshole, my advice is to walk away and make your group aware so the asshole blowback is minimized (ewww!). If you are an ally dealing with an asshole that also happens to be oppressed, go somewhere else. Do your research instead and do not assume that the whole group is made of assholes. 

In oppressed communities we bristle at the idea of allies needing support from us. It is not our responsibility, true. I think that they can, and should, support each other. It should be acknowledged that allies can and do have needs and sometimes require social support to avoid burnout and continue the work, share resources, commiserate. Frequently allies do look to the core community for where to go and what to do, which is sometimes simple attention seeking behavior, but it can be a sincere request, too. If someone seems sincere when asking, say, how to get ally fellowship from my militantly bisexual self, I point them at PFLAG or something similar, or in other instances give them good terms to use to Google to get them started if I have the energy to do so for them.

So let us approach each other with mutual respect and care.  I am not claiming a special insight here - most folks have an oppression and in some other way benefit from the oppression of others (even if we would rather not). We each have to decide what to do here ourselves, and respect that right even if we disagree. I will not sacrifice my own peace of mind or self care to lead someone that is ostensibly supporting me, nor should I or anyone else be expected to do so. If I can, I will. Allies are people, people trying to do right even though they could go through life not giving a damn. If I suspect sincerity, I will always at least point them in the right direction. There is not a group I belong to that could not use another good ally. 

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